Earlier this year, Fritz Hollings made a grand gesture of statesmanship.
Now it’s time to return the favor.
The former governor and longtime U.S. senator asked last March that the federal courthouse — which has carried his name for decades — be rechristened in honor of Judge J. Waties Waring.
The two go back a long way. It was Waring who admitted a young attorney named Ernest “Fritz” Hollings to the federal court, and eventually the future senator practiced in the judge’s own court. But that’s not why Hollings wanted the judicial center named after Waring.
It’s because Waring changed history there.
The Charleston native not only wrote the dissent that became the basis of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, he orchestrated the entire legal strategy that effectively ended segregation in the country.
Hollings was right — Waring does deserve the honor.
But a lot of people weren’t crazy about taking the senator’s name off the building; they felt like it would slight Hollings. So local judges, attorneys, the mayor and former Hollings staffers decided the best way to make sure Hollings gets his due recognition is to commission a statue of him for the courthouse garden.
It’s a good idea, and it’s only fair.
Congressman Jim Clyburn says he can find no instance in American history of anyone asking that their name be taken off anything.
That in itself was a big deal. And it was a magnanimous gesture to ensure Waring — forgotten by most people — will be introduced to future generations. As he should be.
But it’s not like the building suffered from an association with Hollings. In all his years in public office, Hollings was a force for change in South Carolina.
Thomas Tisdale, a local attorney, notes that Hollings created the technical college system, steered the state peacefully through the civil rights era and, at the federal level, created a program to provide better health care to women and children.
Tisdale is chairman of the Hollings statue committee, just as he was for the Waring statue dedicated last year, which means he has apparently become the go-to guy to get a statue raised.
Tisdale says finding private money for the Hollings statue is no problem, probably an even easier sell than Waring was, because everybody knows how much the senator has done.
“This is a way to honor a great lawyer, a great public servant and a person who has contributed greatly to the quality of life in South Carolina for everyone for well over half a century.”
The committee has commissioned Richard Weaver, the Virginia sculptor who did the Waring statue, to build our memorial to Fritz.
Weaver was in town recently to start his research, and Hollings graciously agreed to sit down with him. Anyone who knows the senator understands he doesn’t like people making a fuss about him, so that was probably fun for Weaver.
But this time, Hollings is just going to have to endure the attention because he’s getting a statue.
He deserves a statue.
If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation, send it to the S.C. Bar Foundation, P.O. Box 608 Columbia, SC 29202.
In about a year, we’ll be dedicating the Hollings statue, right there in the garden where Judge Waring’s likeness now stands. And they will once again be together — two towering figures of 20th century Charleston who changed the country.
That’s just as it should be.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.